Welcome to St John's Tower

The original peal of bells was installed in 1844, and first rung on 2nd February 1845. In 1899, a peel of 8 bells were cast by Thomas Blackbourne of Salisbury, and first rung on september 23rd. As part of the celebrations, the largest bell was filled with beer, though history does not recount how long it took to empty, or whether everyone sobered up before the bell was hung!

In 1954 the famous bell founders John Taylor of Loughborough were commissioned to cast a new peel of 8 bells, the Tenor (largest) of which weighs 12.5cwt, and was dedicated to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

St Johns does not have a regular team of ringers, but the peel is often rung by visiting teams.

Above the ringing chamber is the clock room, with a mechanical clock, displaying on 3 faces, located just above the bells. The clock has been converted to electric winding, as the regular trip up the ladder to wind it was proving to much for the clock winder! The clock mechanism is shown on the right.

At the top of the tower, 25m (82ft) above ground level a St Georges flag flies all year round. The tower provides a fantastic view of Bolton, Little Lever, Bury, Rochdale, Manchester, and even on a clear day Jodrel Bank. However for those tempted, the route up involves three flights of stairs and 4 flights of ladders.

For a slideshow of photos from the top of the tower, click the button - All photos taken by and with thanks to Mr. Derek Gee. 

More photos of the views from the top of the tower, courtesy of Mr Vic Gethin. Click thumbnails for larger images.

In addition,

Joe Thornley writes.......

Reading John Lever’s article about St John’s Clock brought back more happy memories of my time as Bell Tower Captain at St John’s Farnworth and Kearsley Parish Church.

In 1954 I was at a bell ringers meeting, at a church located in what was then called the West Riding of Yorkshire. It was around this time that our bells were being re-cast. At this meeting I had a chance conversation with a fellow ringer, Ronald Dove. I later discovered he was a director of Potts of Leeds, the famous firm of premier clock makers.  I was telling Ronald that I had always wanted to see the 8 bells at St John’s, which were hung in 1899, restored for ringing again. They had been silent for 30 years because of their poor condition.  I told him that the PCC had given me permission to try and persuade individual people to pay for the re-casting of a bell in memory of a loved one.  Seven bells were promised but the tenor, the largest bell, was a bit expensive so the whole parish were working hard to raise money to pay for it.

I remember him asking me what condition our church clock was in and I told him that it was worn out. I told him that it was the original clock that had been installed when the church was built in 1826, and was well over 100 years old.  He told me that they had a ‘none striking’ clock in their workshop that had been taken out of Brighouse Orphanage, which at the time was being converted to a boarding school.  Mr Dove explained that the orphanage had stopped the clock from chiming because it woke the children up.  This got me thinking about the possibility of St John’s acquiring the clock and reinstating the chiming mechanism, would not be too big a hurdle.

When I returned to Farnworth I spoke to members of the PCC, who were only too well aware of the condition of our clock. They were all in agreement that this was an opportunity not to be missed as it would remedy our situation. Local people were always ‘chunnering’ as to how much they had missed the clock, when it stopped – which was a frequent occurrence.  The PCC agreed to the purchase the clock for £230, from Potts, which included installation and conversion back to a chiming clock. It took 3 men a week to install, during which time they stayed at a shop at the bottom of Peel Street, where the proprietor took in lodgers. 


The mechanism was relocated to a lower level in the bell tower – its present location.

Joe Thornley

Former Bell Tower Captain

May 2017

A view looking west down Church Street from the top of St John's tower.

The clock mechanism inside the tower. 

The story of our bells

-by Joe Thornley

Please click on the picture below to download and read the full story of our bells. 

Many people are aware that Rivington Pike is part of a chain of beacons that were lit to warn of the approaching Armada in 1588. It is not so widely known, however, that St John’s church tower has also been used as a signal station in the past, though not to warn against oncoming Spanish ships.

In 1842 manufacturers had imposed heavy wage cuts on workers. Much of Britain was in the grip of a general strike. In Lancashire, mobs of angry workers went from mill to mill removing the plugs from the boilers, disabling the steam engines which powered the mills. Farnworth did not escape the Plug Drawing Riots, so a committee was formed which met daily at the Bowling Green Hotel on Market Street and a strategy was quickly put in place in case the rioters should return. All the gentlemen of Farnworth were sworn in as special constables, with 330 truncheons being issued to them.

The committee was keen that the local military, headquartered at the Swan Hotel in Bolton, should be able to help the special constables deal with any rioters. So it was decided to appoint four watchmen to stand on top of St John’s Church tower, two at a time for 6 hour shifts, to provide a watch day and night. If rioters were seen, then the watchmen at St John’s were to raise the flag atop the tower. On seeing the flag, men stationed at Bull Hill near Moses Gate would also raise their flag. The Bull Hill flag would alert men stationed at Hamer’s Bleachworks in Burnden to raise their flag. The plan then was that the Burnden flag would be seen by spotters on the old Bolton Parish Church tower, who could inform  the soldiers based at the nearby Swan Hotel that they must immediately ride to Farnworth, where there first task would be to meet with the committee to decide how best to tackle the rioters.

All did not go to plan, however. On a summer evening when Mr Hamer was out to dinner, his men decided it would be a good joke to hoist the flag up the flagstaff on top of the bleachworks. The flag was seen by the watchers at Bolton Parish Church and they duly dispatched the soldiers, who galloped to Farnworth with great speed to meet the committee at the Bowling Green Hotel. Unfortunately, however, because they had no idea that a signal had been sent, the committee were nowhere to be seen. When the truth of the matter emerged, it is understood that to say the men at Hamer’s bleachworks responsible, got the severest telling off of their careers, would be the understatement of the year!


Source for this article – B T Barton ‘ History of Farnworth and Kersley’ 1887

It brought back great memories reading the article ‘The Watchmen of St John’s Tower’ by John Lever, not least as I taught John to bell ring nearly 50 years ago.

In 1993, just before I retired, I was working in Manchester City Centre. I was walking along Deansgate when I noticed a number of plastic flag staffs at the front of Kendal Milne’s Department Store.  The staffs, which were set at an angle along the frontage of the store, were being taken down.  I thought to myself – ‘one of those staffs would be an ideal replacement for the rotten and damaged one at St John’s Church’. I walked into the store and asked to see the manager.  He was very approachable and listened intently to what I had to say about St John’s Church and was sympathetic to my request for the store to donate a flag staff to St John’s. I waited in the store as he made a few enquiries.  When he came back he told me that the church could have a flag staff and he would make arrangements for it to be delivered. I set off for home and by the time I had returned to Farnworth it had been delivered and was on top of the new church yard wall.

When I next met Derek Gee, we arranged a day to climb the tower and replace the old and rotten staff with our ‘new to us’ Kendal Milne plastic staff. We took the old one down and were just putting the new flag staff up when the rope fell out. Well the only course of action was that I had to climb up the staff to re-thread the rope. Oh happy days and happy memories.

Joe Thornley

Former Bell Tower Captain

April 2017

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